- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) - As a 16-year-old, Sandra Green Hawkins was only allowed to drive from Stallings Lane to Arkansas State University to pick up her mother.

She has yet to forget the day - exactly 50 years ago Tuesday - that she arrived to find tears streaming down her mother’s face.

The sight initially alarmed Hawkins, but she said she knew it was good news by the “giant wonderful smile” on her mother’s face. It was Jan. 17, 1967 - the day then-Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller signed legislation changing the name of Arkansas State College to Arkansas State University.

“I still get emotional about it,” Hawkins said, “and her saying, ‘Who would have thought that a little watermelon farmer’s daughter from Cave City would graduate from college, much less a university. But I am graduating from a university, and you will, too.’”

Three generations of her family have since graduated with teaching degrees from Arkansas State University. Hawkins also works there. That fateful day, she recalled her mother saying, “This will change our lives forever.”

And it did.

Before Jan. 17, 1967, there was only one university in Arkansas - the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. Provost Lynita Cooksey said, in those days, a university status had a broader concept in not only providing the teaching and preparation of students, but also the interest in research that allowed one to contribute back to society.

“Individuals equate a college with being very small and just teaching,” she explained. “But the university was a grander title, and it was a title that meant that we were going to grow and make probably greater contributions within not only preparing students but also through the research components and contributions to, again, to not only the community but region and state.”

Cooksey was sitting in a classroom in what is now known as Health Wellness and Environmental Studies magnet school when her principal announced over the PA system that Arkansas State was now a university.

“I can remember being an elementary student and thinking, ‘Why was this a big deal?’” she recalled. “But the teacher took time to talk about it being a new status. It was a bump up. It gave us higher visibility, and it made the institution, the college, stronger.

“So that may be the only PA announcement I remember, but it was a big deal. It was a big celebration. “The community was just elated.”

Dr. Ray Hall, who was the Student Government Association president at the time, said they didn’t realize how important the milestone was, or the impact it would make, at the time, but it was a magical time for the institution.

During Arkansas State’s 50th year, advocates had sought the university status. The Arkansas Senate approved the proposal, but it overwhelmingly failed in the state House. Hall said it was opposed by the University of Arkansas, Arkansas Gazette and the state Commission of Higher Education.

It would take nine years before their dream was realized, said Hall, whose father worked for Arkansas State and played a key role in helping continue the push.

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Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, https://www.jonesborosun.com

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